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Sticker shock: Virginia residents stunned by high vehicle property tax bills

About 97% of registered vehicles in Fairfax County had car values decline or stay the same, but it's a tough reality for the rest.

ANNANDALE, Va. — There may be an average drop in vehicle value of 9.8% in Fairfax County this year compared to last year, but a percentage of owners is seeing the opposite.

Annandale resident Marie Cheek was shocked to open her property tax bill and learn she owed more for her white Dodge Ram. Her bill showed she must pay $1,462.83 this year when in 2022, the amount was $1,058.

Cheek and her husband question why the drastic vehicle tax increase since her truck is older with 15,000 more miles.

“I thought it was a mistake,” Cheek told WUSA9. “We can swing it this time but between the housing taxes and the tax on our vehicles, they're pricing us out. We're almost 70 years old and both getting ready to retire in a year or so, we hope.”

In Virginia, the code specifies that, for most vehicles, the value be (1) from a recognized pricing guide, (2) applied uniformly, and (3) as of January 1 of the tax year. Fairfax County uses the January edition of the J.D. Power Associations Valuation Services Used Car Guide.

Chairman Jeff McKay stresses the county does not determine the numbers but says the increase in taxes is the result of the spike in vehicle values when car supply was low during the pandemic.

However, 97% of registered vehicles in Fairfax County had their value decline or stay the same this year. McKay credits part of it to the 10% tax relief offered by the count this year. Supervisors also approved an 85% assessment ratio, resulting in tax relief of almost $98 million.

“The board has taken action on what we can do legally to try to relieve some of that stress,” McKay said.

On the other hand, he acknowledged how the percentage of registered vehicles has seen an increase for a variety of reasons.

“There's something specific about your model that has made it more valuable,” he added. “Maybe it was discontinued or maybe over the course of the last year, you see price reductions of that car that aren't realized yet.”

If there is good news, vehicle values have been going down since Jan. 1, which McKay says will likely reflect in next year’s bill.

“We’re seeing more normalization of values this year than last year,” he said.

After Cheek shared her story through an online community forum, many people responded with different experiences. Some say they have also seen an increased, with one woman from Alexandria claiming her bill double from 2022.

The same conversation could be seen in Prince William County where one resident expressed concern about the inflated numbers.

Prince William County uses the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) pricing guide to assess the vehicles. The county typically uses a 100% ratio against the assessed value according to the NADA guide but like Fairfax County, the board utilized an 80% ratio to help with the impact.

“As the car market has begun to normalize, the county returned to utilizing a 100% ratio this fiscal year, as did many other jurisdictions who made a change last year,” Prince William County Communications Director Nikki Brown said in a statement. “In addition, the Commonwealth of Virginia provides personal property tax relief (Personal Property Tax Relief Act - PPTRA) to the county in the form of one lump sum each year. That amount does not change from year to year, and that relief is equally distributed amongst vehicle owners in the county. Therefore, the percentage of PPTRA reduces as more cars are registered in the county.”

In February, a study shows that Virginia car owners are paying the highest average vehicle property tax in the country.

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